part of Funding The Frontlines: A Roadmap To Supporting Health Equity Through Abortion Access
On the Frontlines - A Q&A with Reproaction's Erin Matson
Reproaction has been raising the alarm against dangers of Crisis Pregnancy Centers (CPCs) for years. The frontline non-violent direct-action nonprofit boldly organizes to increase access to abortion and advance reproductive justice as a matter of human dignity.
NCRP’s Movement Engagement Manager Brandi Collins-Calhoun sat down with the organization’s Executive Director Erin Matson ahead of the publication of our report to discuss their efforts and why it’s so important for philanthropy to actively cut off one of the anti-abortion movements greatest tools.
Erin Matson: I’m Erin Matson, I use she/her pronouns, and I am co-founder and executive director of ReproAction. I’m a dog lady, a reader and a runner, and I am committed to ending the anti-abortion movement.
Brandi Collins-Calhoun: Can you please explain what exactly a crisis pregnancy center or fake clinic is?
EM: That’s such a great question. So anti-abortion, fake clinics, that is what we call them, exist to mislead and shame people who are seeking abortion care, there are more than 2600 of them in the United States and they target people with unwanted and unplanned pregnancies. Anti-abortion fake clinics often position themselves as if they were legitimate reproductive health care providers and they do this for the purpose of providing abortion seekers with inaccurate information about abortion and using other methods of coercion to pressure them to have the child.
Sometimes they call themselves crisis pregnancy centers, or pregnancy resources centers. They’ll often also use deceptive names like a woman’s choice, or they will open their doors, right next door to or across the street from abortion clinics. They’ll buy up leases, from abortion clinics after they move shop. And they do this to trick people into thinking that they are the abortion provider.
Kind of their number ammo, to deceive people, because they know if they don’t deceive people, they won’t come in their doors, and they won’t be able to begin that cycle of coercion and often also running out the clock. Pregnancy is time sensitive, with regards to accessing abortion procedures, so they want to get people in their doors.
BCC Who experiences the most harm and impact because of these fake anti-abortion clinics and their tactics?
EM So first, the people who are harmed are the people who go directly to them thinking they’re going to get unbiased and accurate information about their pregnancy and their health and how their bodies work.
I just think I have to talk a little bit about the tactics so that people really understand.
So, one example that I can give personally, is I did clinic defense outside, one abortion provider, were the fake clinic across the way, they would have their volunteers put on the same fluorescent vests, to trick people into thinking that they were the clinic escorts who are going to help them get into the procedure away from those scary people literally themselves.
And what they would do is they would offer them snacks. Well, why were they offering them snacks? Because they knew that that would cause them to be able to not have the procedure that they were supposed to have on an empty stomach. So, they really do this to run out the clock on folks seeking abortion care.
I want to talk directly about the communities that are often most harmed by these anti-abortion, fake clinics. It’s young people, it’s people of color. It’s poor people, its LGBTQ people are disproportionately harmed by these fake clinics that are targeting them.
I also want to talk about kids, and young people, regardless of whether they’re even sexually active. Oftentimes, we see that these anti-abortion clinics are pumping out sex education and abstinence only education in schools that is really shaming and detrimental to particularly LGBTQ youth, who we know, through all sorts of data are immensely targeted by these negative messages.
Plus, we as a society are harmed by these fake clinics, and we’re both deeply harmed and we’re also doing some harm. By relying on this infrastructure of the anti-abortion movement to supply basic goods and services to pregnant people who need support. Instead of supplying them through a robust social safety net. No one should have to go begging for diapers and get religious instruction
In return, no one should be told they’re going to hell to get baby clothes. They also represent a total failure of society in our ability to care for one another, we should provide services and we’re not doing it. And instead, we’re delegating it horribly to a group of people who are motivated by anti-abortion, white supremacist hate.
BCC: What does organizing on the ground look like to combat the fake clinics?
EM: Yes, that’s a question I’d love to answer. At my organization, Reproaction, we’ve spent years organizing on the ground against anti-abortion clinics.
Let’s start with the best news. We’ve found that that this is the number one thing that activists want to do that we get tons of new activists coming in, because people are outraged when they learn about the deceptive tactics of the centers are like, why is this happening, we got to make this stop happening. People love to engage in the power of direct action and the picket and the getting the word out. And it’s important and effective, because one of the things these anti-abortion fake clinics must depend on is people not knowing who they really are, otherwise, they can’t get people in the door.
Another piece of the puzzle, in terms of organizing, looks like organizing our elected officials. And that’s both at local levels, state levels, and then at the federal level, to ensure that there’s no funding going out to these guys. I mean, again, everything is local, this even talks about our school boards, and what’s in our curriculums. I’m greatly confident about whether someone lives in a red state, blue state or purple state, no matter what their community is, looks like, I’m confident that there are robust opportunities to fight back against fake clinics in their area.
BCC: Organizers dream of a future where fake clinics do not exist. But in the meantime, for those holding this work to combat fake clinics, what does that sustained work look like? What does it look like for the folks on the frontlines to do this work to the fullest impact that they hope for?
EM: Yeah, I mean, first one of the pieces is, and you can’t build anything on self-care alone, but I just want to mention it because the anti-abortion movement are bullies. And it takes a lot to sustain the work, part of that means knowing and giving permission in activist settings to step back and take a break. The anti-abortion movement is a white patriarchy movement, and they especially target people of color who are doing the work, that taking a step back is important.
Another piece in terms of sustaining the work is there’s room for more high-quality data about these folks. I’m extremely excited about the upcoming NCRP (National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy) report on crisis pregnancy center funding and what that looks like. I think that’ll be useful for activists. One of the things we do at ReproAction is our fake clinic database, a catalogue that we independently research, and regularly update and verify with all the locations of anti-abortion clinics in the United States. We must do this, because are we supposed to trust the anti-abortion movement, these robust liars over what is where, plus they’re constantly even changing the names of these things once they get discovered.
Then I think it is also like any form of organizing, it just requires sustained community building, deep work and, and building coalitions to demand change.
BCC: You mentioned how more research will be helpful. I know funding for research is extremely helpful, but what funding exists, that is known to the public for anti-abortion, fake clinics, who are funding these spaces? How are anti0abortion fake clinics able to get away with the things that they’re doing?
EM: Can’t wait for your report. I’ll talk a little bit about both private and public.
On the public level, there is federal funding that flows to these anti-abortion fake clinics. Just to give one example, the Trump administration dumped money on the anti-abortion fake clinic movement, and what people may not realize is that some of this funding is still going on as we
[Take the] Obria group, for example, they’ve got a contract that comes due this year. And I think it’s going to be important for activists in the community to be vigilant to make sure that it is not renewed.
There’s also state funding. Sometimes states explicitly allocate dollars to the anti-abortion clinics, just kind of a blank check. Other times they’ll give them specific allocations to perform services, and then sometimes even purchase equipment for them such as ultrasound equipment.
And then there’s also instances where some states have authorized redirect redirecting, or should we say misdirecting TANF (Temporary Assistance to Needy Families) dollars that are intended to feed hungry children to go to these anti-abortion fake clinics that are instead, giving people supplies in exchange for hellfire and damnation. Another piece of the puzzle, some states bar legally are barred from creating their own laws that bar themselves as the state, from auditing how these funds are spent by the anti-abortion clinics. Missouri is an example of a state like that.
At the local level where funds may go for sex ed, as I noted earlier, an example of that would be real alternatives in Pennsylvania, and their lack of accountability.
Even in the state of Texas, you had some instances where anti-abortion clinics were getting state grants, and it had to be brought back because they weren’t supplying any services.
I also want to talk a little bit on the private side.
So, what we know is the anti-abortion organizations are funding them. We know that players like Knights of Columbus are really big. I believe we’re unable to know, because of the way the law is structured, that religious organizations are funneling money to these anti-abortion clinics. One thing I want to lift, is the Catholic Diocese, which often have close relationships with these anti-abortion fake clinics.
I want to say this exactly. So, we don’t know what’s happening. But we do know that the all-male hierarchy in these dioceses has every reason, many of them have been bankrupted by sexual abuse that they have covered up within their own turf, that there would be an incentive to shuttle money elsewhere. And so, when one looks at the remarkably close relationship between these dioceses, it’s an in the way that some of them are flush with cash. And it’s hard for me not to think about that.
BCC: I know you mentioned that there is a Missouri, I believe that they passed something so they wouldn’t have to audit fake clinics. How would you describe the questionable finances? You already kind of mentioned the unethical practices that they’re using. But how would you describe the questionable finances and spending that’s happening at these crisis pregnancy centers?
EM: Yeah, I mean, it’s just outrageous. I mean, what is happening? This is a scandal of epic proportions. I am stunned that you have in some cases millions of dollars going to anti-abortion clinics, when the law doesn’t prevent us from knowing details about who goes inside, who sometimes only get like a paltry number of people coming in their doors each month. So, the question is like, what is this money really going for? And again, I would just note that you know, this would be a tax-sheltered place for the anti-abortion movement, which is very much a political movement. And, you know, they stood stalwart behind Trump and his election. They were one of the only groups not to express qualms. Once he was put in as the front runner in 2016. This is about the Supreme Court. This is about remaking the judiciary. This is about elections. And so, you know, I just find it interesting that in many cases, volunteer run places that don’t get many people in their doors need so darn much money.
BCC: How has or how do you think philanthropy has played a role in the success of these fake clinics and their reproductive coercion?
EM: Yes. Um, so I want to give a two-part answer that first, I think that pro-abortion funders have overall, if not some individual ones, but as a sector have failed to appreciate the unique threat posed by anti-abortion fake clinics and really seeing them for who they are, which is they are the power core of the anti-abortion movement. It’s like this money shelter zone, where they’re taking in a bunch of money both from the private sector and the public sector, providing dubious services or actively causing harm, and not actually seeing many people. So, what’s happening there?
It would be important for the pro-abortion funders specifically, to really start appreciating that this is in large part what we are up against at both at state levels at national levels, even frankly, international levels and start funding it like that, instead of like a one off like, these are just activists who want to go out and protest. This is a big deal. Um, I also worry that to the other side of this question, I also worry that there are progressive funders out there who really don’t subscribe to the white supremacist themes of the anti-abortion movement, because to put it directly, I’m not sure everyone has really had access to the to them to see what the anti-abortion movement says and does.
That this is really a movement that is concerned about demographics in this country, that this is about increasing the number of white births in this country. And then on the flip side, them being very callously comfortable with the fact that it is women of color who are most criminalized by these laws and who are most hurt by these laws. The anti-abortion movement is very much a white supremacy movement. I worry there are funders who are not making that connection, that may consider themselves to be progressive. And I also worry that there are funders who are looking, who are concerned with something very good and important to be concerned about, which is low-income people with children who need support, we absolutely need to step up not just on the public side, but on the private side to be a better society and support these parents of young children and give them the support that they need if they don’t have those means on their own.
But we’ve got to figure out a way and funders have got to figure out a way to do this without serving it with a wallop of anti-abortion hate on the side, right? A person shouldn’t need to go get basically what amounts to conversion therapy on abortion, which is cruel and torturous to get basic services that they need.
BCC: Thank you for naming both of those. Um, so in what ways can philanthropy support those on the ground working to support abortion seekers and address the harm caused by fake clinics?
EM: What Can Philanthropy do is always going to be sustained general operations funding to organizations doing the work on the ground, and, lifting our Black led organizations, especially as an important, important place to be looking for us.
I think another piece too, thinking about philanthropy as a sector, that would be helpful, we’re in a movement moment on abortion, and people are very concerned about what’s coming with the court, is it is it so much to think that maybe philanthropy might get together and create a pledge to stop funding anti-abortion organizations and not playing into this.
BCC: Are there specific types of vendors that you are looking to commit to this part of the movement? Whoever supports you consider a vital priority?
EM: I would like to see the pro-abortion funders step up and fund the anti-abortion fake clinic accountability work more.
As somebody who does this work, I personally believe that dismantling the anti-abortion movements, core operating infrastructure is at least as sexy and exciting and impactful as whatever that next rebranding effort might be. But I think funders don’t always naturally get that.
I’d also like to see more connections with funders who are addressing poverty, and really thinking about it in that way. How can we work together for funders supporting reproductive justice, and of which anti-poverty work is always appropriate, also, anti-poverty, philanthropy community? Really, how can we create a world where poor people are able to get the supplies that they need, and the support that they need to have their families when they want them? How they want them and do this without a white supremacist, anti-abortion movement coming in and telling people that they’re going to hell as part of the transaction?
BCC: What should philanthropy be doing to prepare for the influx of people continuing their pregnancies and needing support because of the upcoming Supreme Court decision?
EM: Yes. I mean, there’s no question that there’s going to be several catastrophic effects to come over the anticipated Supreme Court ending of Roe v Wade, and this is in the States is going to be decimated, it’s going to be people seeking care, but also a lot of people not seeking care who might have otherwise. And so, I do think, to go back to this idea of really taking that anti-poverty lens, and a reproductive justice lens in thinking now not just about the issue of helping people to cross state lines, which is important work, and the direct aid work, which is so important. But also thinking about, like, how can how can philanthropy step up now to provide services to people who will be continuing those pregnancies, because there are going to be some people who just aren’t, who are just going to say, you know what, I’m not going to try with the abortion fund, it’s too hard. I’m just going to go forward.
BCC: My last question is, how should philanthropy respond to requests that come in from anti-abortion? Okay, how should philanthropy work sponsor request for anti-abortion support and funding that is likely going to increase because of the Supreme Court as well?
EM: Yeah, I mean, and this is, this is a loving call-in to philanthropy, that it’s time to just cut ties.
And if folks are currently funding, you know, as somebody who’s devoted to this work, I would like to see us as a community help educate folks and say, okay, that was a mistake, shifts tactics
The simple answer is folks shouldn’t be supporting anti-abortion organizations, they shouldn’t have been doing it before, they shouldn’t be doing it now. And they should be very aware that already the anti-abortion movement is getting like a puff piece in Washington Post and other national publications seemingly at least once or twice a week, where they’re painting this future of post roe world where they the anti-abortion people are going to be the ones to address the harms that they the anti-abortion movement people caused.
And that’s just not how this works. So, so it’s important. We know there are a lot of them, you know, you have state right to life directors and others telegraphing that they intend to grow their anti-abortion fake clinics, I think it’s I think it’s very reasonable to expect that conservative state legislatures are going to just skyrocket the funding they’re providing to these folks. And the fact is, we should be defunding them completely. So, philanthropy should pull out and again, I’m also thinking about providing alternatives. And really, you know, I’d love to see some visionary funders get together and fund more of the type of work like what All Options is doing, for example, providing comprehensive support in all directions, regardless of what reproductive choice a person might choose to make.
BCC: Thank you so much. Is there anything else that you want to add to closing? No, thank you so much for the work that you’re doing. I see.
EM: Seriously I’m so excited to read your report. I think it’s going to be amazing and yes to the extent that we can work together on these issues. I love it.
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